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Dublin: 0 °C Sunday 18 March, 2018

'I came off in extra time and I was nearly in tears with the excitement of going to Croke Park'

Luke Connolly’s return of 2-5 was key to Nemo Rangers’ victory.

Luke Connolly celebrates scoring a goal Luke Connolly celebrates hitting the net against Slaughtneil. Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

AS LUKE CONNOLLY prepared for last Saturday’s All-Ireland semi-final, he delved into the Nemo Rangers club catalogue to find some scoring inspiration.

He knew the tales of their St Patrick’s Day triumphs and was desperate to do his bit to propel the current bunch to a 17 March showdown.

When he crashed the ball to the Slaughtneil net deep in injury-time at the close of a marathon 80-minute game, he knew that ambition had been realised.

“One of the best games I’ve ever experienced. Growing up with Nemo you see teams win All-Irelands. I remember watching Colin Corkery, I’ve re-watched the clip the past few weeks of him kicking his point against Crossmolina. A big hero of mine, Colin.

“I’ve watched it and I wanted to be on that stage and we wanted to be on that stage. It was a very emotional feeling. I came off in extra time and I was nearly in tears with the excitement of going to Croke Park.

“That was amazing. The ball hit the net for that goal and the emotion just kind of flowed out of me.”

Source: officialgaa/YouTube

Connolly has shone in the scoring stakes for Nemo Rangers all season. He hit 0-4 in their county final draw, netted in the replay win over St Finbarr’s and the Munster semi-final against Adare before amassing 0-10 as they toppled the kingpins Dr Crokes in the provincial final.

On Saturday in O’Moore Park, he walked off the pitch with 2-5 to his credit. 1-4 of that was plundered in extra-time but it was the goal in normal time that kick-started his run as he escaped from the clutches of the vigilant Brendan Rogers.

“Hoggy (Ciaran Horgan) turned and I was trying to lose (the marker), to be honest he was glued to me all day, he’s a great back. I did find it difficult to lose him.

“I didn’t even touch it the first time. I didn’t know where it was. I think he went up and slapped it up, the keeper came, I managed to get a hand and all of a sudden it just fell for me.

“I suppose it’s just that bit of luck you need on a day like today. It was massive for me to get that score because I hadn’t really been in the game up until then. I knew I needed to pull something out of it.”

Connolly pinpointed the training regime Nemo Rangers have embarked on as central to them bridging the 13-week gap of inactivity since their Munster final win and finding the means to thunder into the contest in extra-time.

“To be honest the training the last few weeks, we really have pushed the fitness. Post to post, across the pitch, I couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve ran across the Nemo pitch at this stage. I’m sick to death of doing it but being perfectly honest I cannot wait to do it again in the next two to three weeks going into the All-Ireland.

“Nothing will make me happier than going out Tuesday night and running across that pitch. We have done massive work on our fitness and we have complete confidence in our football ability.”

Luke Connolly with Brendan Rogers Nemo Rangers Luke Connolly in action against Slaughtneil's Brendan Rogers. Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

Plotting for a date with Galway’s Corofin will keep Connolly’s sight trained on the club game rather than county matters with Cork for another few weeks.

“I love playing for Cork. It’s an honour to play for Cork. But an All-Ireland final with your club on Paddy’s Day, there’s nothing like it. It’s the pinnacle of your career. It’s where I’ve wanted to be since I was growing up.

“I don’t mean this in a derogatory way but counties aren’t good enough. That’s not me belittling the county, the county was massive and it was brilliant for us this year. But in a sense that in a club like Nemo, it’s All-Irelands you want to win and that’s the standard that’s been set from all the players before us.

“Our management have been there. Nemo teams are remembered for All-Irelands and we want to be one of those teams remembered.”

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